Since festivals offer so much to see in so little time, and everyone may have a different experience, we decided to get a few perspectives on Saturday’s Virgin Free Fest. We Love DC’s music writers Alexia and Jonathan write about their experiences, and guest writer Sarah Jackson shares her thoughts too.
Alexia: Who knew that the drive to Saturday’s Virgin Free Fest at Merriweather Post Pavilion would be a portend of the dreary, largely agonizing day that would follow. What should have been a breezy, 1-hour drive from DC to Columbia, Maryland, where Merriweather is located turned into a three-and-a-half hour punishment- two hours of which were spent in an almost complete standstill after taking the exit to Merriweather.
At three o’clock, when I had imagined myself jumping and dancing along to The Dismemberment Plan on the West Stage I was instead sitting in my car on Brokenland Parkway, a mere stone’s throw from the venue, so close, but yet so far. At one point we could see the field and the side of the stage, and even hear the din of the music, but that was only depressing/enraging, as we were stuck in the hell of festival traffic. The only entertainment we experienced was watching people get out of their cars to pee on the side of the road. Eventually, after passing all of the full parking lots, we located parking approximately (not exaggerating) a mile away from the venue. I think there were supposed to be shuttles, but none passed us as we walked in the herd of festival-goers to the venue.
By the time I got in to Merriweather I was, not too surprisingly, in a foul mood. Thankfully I didn’t miss too much of Ben Folds Five’s set, and got to watch them do their thing from the sunny lawn. Their set was, for the most part, upbeat and energetic. Somehow hearing “Brick” in a festival setting, as popular as it was for the band, seemed inappropriate. The introspective, heartfelt song was a little too personal and quiet for the atmosphere of constant gabbing and partying going on all around as the band performed. They were at their best for the setting with bouncier numbers like “Kate” and “Army” which had the audience singing along and getting into the groove.
Much of the rest of the day was an overcrowded, dirty, cold blur. I fought my way through the hordes to catch Santigold’s set, which I was looking forward to. Unfortunately as much as I like her music, and appreciated her fun dancers, it was so crowded that it was hard to see much, and I didn’t really connect with the performance onstage.
I managed to make it back to the Pavilion stage for a good portion of Alabama Shakes’ set, which was actually great. I’d never heard the band before, and the singer’s vocals were powerful, soulful, engaging.
While a disproportionately large part of my day felt like it was spent either being cold (and I was a smart one who brought an extra sweatshirt along- there were plenty of people walking around in halter-tops and short-shorts), inhaling dust from the herds of people clomping around, searching for my friends (extremely crappy cell service the whole day) or waiting in lines (20-plus-minute lines for everything from getting a drink to taking a pee in a dark port-o-potty with no toilet paper) there were, thankfully, a couple redeeming high points by the end of the night. After waiting in line for probably a half-hour while listening to M83, my friends and I got to ride on the beautiful, lit-up ferris wheel which was adjacent to the stage on which M83 was performing. This was a magical moment. We had, for that brief time, a perfect view of the stage, awesome lights, perfect sound, and the scary-big crowd in front of the stage, which I was so thankful not to be in. Continue reading